DAY 29. COMEDY OF TERRORS: A matter of laughter at the splatter of the matter. A funny one, duh.
There was a time, let’s call it 1983, where we couldn’t just sit down and instantly find any single movie from anywhere in the world and any point in time. You might think that that would have been a dreary existence, but it was actually kind of awesome. You were at the mercy of the HBO Guide, whatever was on TV that day and whatever new releases were in your video store. Now, it’s all very robotic.
Pandemonium is exactly one of those movies, a film that would just show up on HBO to my delight and one that I’d often stare at on the video shelves. Did it belong in horror? Did it belong in comedy? What kind of maniacs would make this?
Alfred Sole, that’s who. It’s the last movie he’d direct. If anyone knew what slashers were — and had the timing to make fun of their conventions — the director of Alice, Sweet Alice was more than up to the task.
Welcome to It Had To Be, Indiana. It’s a place where football is king and Blue Grange (Tab Hunter!) wins the 1963 National Championship before he goes on to professional glory. As the game ends, Bambi the cheerleader (Candy Azzara, who played Rodney’s wife in Easy Money and was almost Carol — she was in the second failed pilot — on All In the Family) tries to win his heart before the rest of the cheerleaders kick her out. Seconds later, they’re all skewered together by a javelin.
Almost two decades pass and the cheerleading camp remains closed due to this tragedy, but Bambi comes back to town to start it back up. I just love how the words EXPOSITION and STILL MORE EXPOSITION flash on the screen while she explains her backstory to Pepe (David Landers, who was Squiggy on Lavern and Shirley) and his mother, Salt.
As each student arrives at the school, they’re labeled VICTIM #1, 2, 3 and so on and so forth. The first is Candy (Carol Kane!), who is basically Carrie as she gets into a fight with her mother about dirty pillows at the bus station.
Then there’s VICTIM #2: Glenn Dandy (Judge Reinhold), who comes from a strange family made up of Kaye Ballard (who was in Spike Jonze traveling group of musicians and would use her catchphrase “Good luck with your MOUTH!” on shows like The Patty Duke Show and The Perry Como Show) and Donald O’Connor from Singin’ In the Rain. And VICTIM #3: Mandy, whose dad (James MacKrell, who played Lew Landers in both Gremlins and The Howling) introduces her as if he were Bert Parks (look for Victoria Carroll from Nightmares In Wax as her mom).
VICTIM #4 is Sandy (Debralee Scott, Cathy Shumway from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a show that probably will elicit blank stares from, well, anyone), who gets a ride from Ronald Reagan. And then there’s Andy and Randy, VICTIMS #4 and #5, played by Mile Chapin (Richie from The Funhouse) and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olson himself!).
“Candy, Mandy, Sandy, Andy and Randy,” they all shout.
“And me, Glen.” Everyone stares at Glen.
“Glen Dandy!” This line makes me laugh like a maniac. Look, I was 11 when I first saw this.
After meeting all of these folks, we get to know Sgt. Reginald Cooper (Tommy Smothers), a mountie who is the U.S. for some reason. He’s on the trail of a convict named Jarrett (Richard Romans, who provided voices for Heavy Metal), who killed his family with a drill and turned them into bookshelves. Perhaps he can meet up with The Breather from Student Bodies and they can discuss bookends. Anyways, he’s escaped and Warden June (Eve Arden, Our Miss Brooks and Principal McGee from Grease) has no idea where he’s gone.
This is where I should mention that Johnson, Cooper’s assistant, is played by Paul Reubens in an almost proto-Pee-Wee Herman mode. In fact, much of the cast are Groundlings, so you get appearances by a young Phil Hartman and John Paragon as a prisoner.
The movie turns into a slasher as the killer makes his way to campus and Cooper falls in love with Candy. Glenn gets blown up on a trampoline. Mandy is trying to brush her teeth for hours when she gets drilled.
But it’s not Jarrett or another killer named Fletcher or ever Dr. Fuller from the mental hospital that’s behind it all. The real killer is still at large, with Bambi getting drowned in a tub full of milk and cookies. Randy, Andy and Sandy are killed after a game of strip poker. And now the killer is after Candy, revealing that he’s…
Well, don’t you want to watch this for yourself?
Other notables that show up are Alix Elias (Coach Steroid from Rock ‘n Roll High School), Pat Ast (Edna from Reform School Girls), Don McLeod (T.C. Quist from The Howling), Edie McClurg (who was in, well, any role that needed a funny redhead mom in the 1980’s) and former pro wrestler Lenny Montana (who was most famously Luca Brasi in The Godfather).
Will you like it? Well, I know some people that love Full Moon High and Wacko, while I dislike those films. And I’ve read plenty of folks online who have negatively compared this film to those. But this is just so much better, in my eyes. Sole has a great eye for a gag and some innovative camera movements. And despite the racism of the Japanese Airlines scene, having Godzilla as a stewardess that uses atomic breath to warm up coffee is still hilarious to me.